Book Review: "Foundryside" by Robert Jackson Bennett

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle. But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic--the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience--have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims. Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them. To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

It's always rewarding when you take a chance on a book with a cool cover, and the story ends up being worth the buy. This is my first time encountering one of Robert Jackson Bennett's books, and I had a pretty good time. I'm not one to shy away from new fiction, obviously, but lately, my reading lists have consisted of entries I've been late to the party to. It's nice to see that there are plenty of brand new books out there that come with a lot to offer. I especially feel this way when it comes to Bennett's writing since there's plenty to learn from his world-building.

On that note, I want to begin by pointing out my three favorite elements of Foundryside's story. The first, as I pointed out earlier, is the world-building. There's a magic system in this story that is a bit more sci-fi heavy that's pretty unique to Bennet's story. I'm using the term 'magic' lightly here since, again, Bennett throws a sci-fi tailored complexity to the mix that gets explained. I could come up with examples of magic systems I've seen in other stories that come close, but won't since Bennett has made this system his own. What's also praiseworthy of this system is it's comprehensible. I'm not a sci-fi reader because I'm often intimidated by the overly complicated magic-science explanations I encounter in the genre.

The second would be the cast of characters. Sancia is a heroine girls and women can root for. She's funny; she's consistent with the trope of a rogue-like character and, most importantly, she's realistic. What I mean by this is, Bennett never cuts corners when it comes to Sancia trusting allies and fighting dirty when she takes on anyone who outweighs her. Gregor is the veteran vanguard trope who serves as our other protagonist. Gregor's another believable main character who serves as a foil to Sancia. He's seasoned, experienced, pragmatic, and out of touch with the world he defended. Their paths cross, and we see very different glimpses of what's wrong with this world.

The third is that Foundryside is an entry-level fantasy and sci-fi genre book. I'm already familiar with the tropes typical of the fantasy and sci-fi genres from other reads. Still, this book is great for anyone feeling adventurous. You'll get attached to the characters easily enough and, as I said earlier, will have a coherent magic system to wrap your head around. There are also a few times in this book that I chuckled at the hilarity of Gregor's witty quips, or Sancia's destructive impulses thanks to Bennett's humor. I'd go as far as to say that this story pretty much provides the whole package with the promise of a series to follow.

The only criticism I can provide comes with my third favorite aspect of the book, which is personal. My familiarity with the genres kept me from seeing anything relatively 'new' aside from Bennett's magic system. Even so, I intend to purchase the next book when it comes out because I enjoyed the story enough not to care. It's a decent start to a series that deserves attention from readers savvy to fantasy and sci-fi or otherwise.

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